The Pyramids


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Section: Pyramids

Ancient Aliens: “Perhaps the most familiar and most mysterious megalithic structure in all the world is the Great Pyramid of Giza. The enormous size and weight of the stones, multiplied by the sheer number of them, makes one thing certain: the construction of the Great Pyramid remains one of the greatest marvels and mysterious of architectural engineering.”

The pyramids at Giza are marvels of engineering and there are many theories, from the mundane to fantastic, surrounding their construction.

“There are all kinds of theories on how the Great Pyramid of Giza was built – so many theories that you just sit back and shake your head. That includes ET visitations, levitating the blocks with some sort of sound system.”

One place we can learn a lot about Egyptian stone-cutting methods is from the so-called unfinished obelisk.[1]

Here we have a 1,000-ton obelisk made of granite, abandoned midway through the project because of a crack that developed. This stone, because it is unfinished, gives us direct insight into how they cut and shaped granite, as well as other stones.[2]

On the sides we can see how these stones were separated from the quarry. A team of workers would line-up side by side and pound their sections with a diorite pounding stone.[3] Such pounding stones can be found all over this quarry and others in Egypt.[4] This pounding only broke off millimeters of granite at a time, but eventually these troth-like sections would emerge at each workers station.[5]

After that they would do the same thing on the bottom of the block until it was supported only by a thin spine in the middle. Then it would be snapped off using levers.[6] The people who created the Moai statues at Easter Island used very similar methods for quarrying stone, as did many other groups around the world – as we will see.

After the stones had been roughly shaped using pounding stones, they would begin to polish them with grinders.[7] There have been many types of stone grinders, or polishers, found in ancient Egypt.[8] They usually had a handle and a flat surface which they would use to rub against the stone, using sand as the abrasive[9]. They were, well… sanding the stone.

The various mineral particles found in sand are indeed hard enough to polish hard stones like granite, but also to do what Ancient Aliens tries to make people think is utterly impossible – that is, to cut granite.[10]

The Egyptians had a variety of ways to cut granite, mostly involving copper and sand.[11] There are plenty of saw marks on granite stones in Egypt, such as at the granite quarries, as well as notable ones like the famous granite sarcophagus in the Great Pyramid.[12]

The person who was doing the sawing on the sarcophagus sawed, for a while, at the incorrect angle before realizing his mistake and going in the right direction. This left us a pretty large mark to study.[13]

These copper saws came in three basic styles. One was a two-person saw, like an old time lumber saw. Another type was a small, hand held saw with a wooden handle.[14] And finally there was a tubular saw for making holes in granite and other stones.[15]

These saws are depicted in several Egyptian reliefs.[16] Interestingly they didn’t require saw teeth to work. They only required sand to be placed between the saw and the stones. The sand was what did the cutting.[17]

This particular method of stone cutting has been tested by ancient Egyptian tool experts and, not only was it done, it was apparently quite easy to do.[18]

However, sawing granite with copper was expensive because the copper would wear out quite quickly. Thus, you mostly see granite being worked with pounding stones finished with grinders and chisels. The saw work was reserved primarily for royal projects, like that of the sarcophagus.[19]

All of this information severely dents Ancient Aliens’ credibility due to the fact that, all throughout the series, they try to make it seem like working with granite was only possible through the use of diamond-tipped alien power tools.

However, as all of this relates to the great pyramid’s construction, it’s important to remember that almost none of the pyramid is made from granite – except for a few things such as the roof supports for the king’s chamber. Most of the stones used were sandstone and limestone. About 85% of the stone used in the construction of the pyramids was relatively soft sandstone which was quarried right on site.[20]

That’s right! The great pyramid was built right in the middle of a massive sandstone quarry, which was no doubt at least one factor in choosing the location to build it.

The other 15% of the stones, like limestone and the granite, would have to be brought in from a slightly further away location.[21] So this raises another question:

Okay, so what about moving these stones? Surely, as Ancient Aliens claims, the only option is levitation…

AA: “In order to really move massive amounts of stone like that, they would have had to have been levitated, somehow made weightless and then moved through the air by some sort of device. Perhaps even a handheld device like some sort of beam weapon.”

If levitation was how the ancient Egyptians moved stones, they had a funny way of showing it. This is because there are plenty of depictions of them using wooden sleds to move everything from blocks the size and shape of the ones used for the pyramid, to massive 1,000 ton monuments and obelisks – all using wooden sleds.[22]

They even had a hieroglyph for the world “sled”, which they used often.[23] In fact three such sleds have been found in tact by archeologists[24] and they have all kinds of places to attach ropes to.[25]

Speaking of ropes…

Ropes made out of papyrus and other materials have been found in Egypt, some of them with a massive circumference, suggesting that they were used for extremely heavy objects.[26]

Boats were used for stones that needed to be imported. In fact a channel was dug from the Nile to the construction site, so no stone had to be dragged very far anyway[27]

So, what about the construction of the Pyramids? How exactly was it done?

Part of the reason the Ancient Aliens perspective is attractive is because some of the other popular theories concerning the pyramid’s construction have serious problems, such as the single ramp theory which would have had to extend out more than a mile, and would have had to have had more stones in it than the pyramid itself.[28]

Another one is the spiral ramp theory. This one is problematic because some of the ledges only had about two feet or less to work with, certainly not enough to hold a ledge that would carry workers and stones the size of the ones used.[29]

Also, a structure like the pyramid would have had to have been constantly monitored for geometric accuracy as it progressed upwards[30], because being even a few inches off on a lower level could cause the top to be off by a huge amount.  And a spiral ramp would have made it impossible to survey the geometric accuracy of the pyramid as it progressed.[31]

Add to this that there is no actual evidence for either of those theories and you can see why people are looking for alternatives.

While doing research for this documentary I came across a new theory about the pyramids construction that I had not heard before. At first I planned to mention it only briefly, but the more I heard of this theory the more convinced I became of its validity.

It was proposed, not by an Egyptologist, but by and eccentric French architect named Jean Pierre Houdin.

And if Jean Pierre is correct, knowing how the blocks were raised in the pyramid also happens to explain some of the other mysteries, like the purpose for the odd shaped Grand Gallery, as well as the purpose of the granite blocks above the kings chamber and why there were three burial chambers cut in at different levels in the pyramid two of which were unused.

I will very briefly explain this theory, but I highly encourage you to visit the links at the website on your screen because the specifics of this theory are something that any pyramid enthusiast should be, in my opinion, very familiar.

The basic idea is that there was an internal ramp in the Great Pyramid, and workers dragged the blocks through it until they reached the corners, at which point the block was repositioned for another team to pull it up the next ramp.

Also, the exterior limestone blocks with the polished finish would have been positioned and aligned first to ensure geometric accuracy, and then the sandstone blocks would have been positioned behind them as filler.

This would mean that all the internal chambers, like the Queen and King’s Chamber, were built as the pyramid progressed upwards in the light of day.

This internal ramp theory, unlike some of the others is actually supported by quite a lot of physical evidence.  For example in the 1980s a French team looking for hidden chambers conducted a full scale gravimetric survey of the Great Pyramid – kind of like a giant x-ray map of the entire pyramid.

They actually found evidence of this internal ramp through their study[32], but had no idea what to think of the spiral pattern they saw at the time, so they simply filed it away until they heard about Jean Pierre’s internal ramp theory 14 years later.

In addition there is a notch high up on the Great Pyramid which, according to Jean Pierre, rests exactly on the 7% grade where you’d expect to find the internal ramp, and would be at the exact place where the workers would have lifted the blocks and changed the direction for the pullers.[33]

Bob Brier, an Egyptologist working with Jean Pierre, was only allowed a few minutes to survey this notch and take a few pictures and measurements. They found that there was indeed a large space behind theses stones, and made extensive computer models with the pictures that were taken.[34]

As of 2012, the team is still waiting for clearance from the Egyptian authorities to conduct a full scale survey of this notch.

But perhaps even more interesting is the purpose for the Grand Gallery and the granite stones above the Kings Chamber. I mention them together because, according to Jean Pierre, they are intimately connected.[35]

First, it is important to know that the main difference between the Great Pyramid and the other two pyramids at Giza is that the Great Pyramid’s burial chamber was inside the pyramid. The other two were underground, cut directly into the bedrock[36], which meant that in those two pyramids they did not have to worry about the hundreds of thousands of tons of stone above it collapsing onto the tomb.

The Great Pyramid was different. Its chambers were in the middle of the pyramid, and because of this the designer had to get creative to prevent the stones from collapsing in on the chambers. In earlier pyramids in the area this had been accomplished using a stone roof that came together at an apex, which distributed the weight of the blocks away from the chamber.[37]

But for the Great Pyramid the designer wanted to be more ornate, opting for a flat roof in the Kings Chamber, which would have easily collapsed if he didn’t find a way to distribute the weight of the stones above it away from the roof.

He ingeniously added a series of large granite blocks, spaced out evenly above the chamber, capping those stones with the same apex roof idea from the earlier pyramids, which distributed the weight safely away from the Kings Chamber ceiling.[38]

This did indeed solve the problem of the weight of the stones collapsing the chamber, but it caused another problem. How could you get those granite stones up there for placement? They would have been too big for the internal ramp, and too heavy, even at a 7% incline.

For the solution we look to the Grand Gallery. The Grand Gallery has puzzled Egyptologists ever since it was discovered. It is such an odd shape, and it doesn’t seem to make sense to construct it the way it’s constructed if it is simply a path to get from point A to point B. This has led to much speculation about its purpose.

Jean Pierre has proposed that the Grand Gallery was used as a massive counterweight system, where a wooden trolley was loaded with stones and rigged with ropes and used to provide the force to lift the heaviest objects. Basically it was the equivalent of a freight elevator.

There is actually a lot of physical evidence for this too[39], and it explains all kinds of peculiar details about the Grand Gallery. For example, the odd holes in the so called “benches” of the Grand Gallery were used to connect a wooden guide system for the trolley. It also explains why there are remnants of grease as well as scratches along the bottom of the chamber where the trolley would have rubbed against the stone. It was apparently lubricated to make it run smoother.

It explains the odd way the stones were worn at the so called top “step” of the Grand Gallery exactly where the ropes would have had to be. This area has now been cemented over to make a step, but you can see in old pictures what it looked like when explores first arrived.

This freight elevator would have required a small external ramp, which there is some evidence for[40], and even those who oppose the long single ramp theory agree there was probably a small ramp at the beginning of the construction. This ramp would have been dismantled after the completion of the Kings Chamber, and the stones would have been dragged up the internal ramp to finish the rest of the pyramid.[41]

Jean Pierre and his team have made a lot of converts to this idea, including a number of well-respected Egyptologists and pyramid experts. But as of 2012 they are still in the final stages of being approved by the Egyptian government for more work on the site.

Heiser: “Houdin’s idea of an internal ramp is coherent. I think there is good circumstantial evidence for it. If you watched the National Geographic special on his view I think you’d agree that there is good circumstantial evidence for it. It has a lot of explanatory power for a lot of the fundamental questions. I think it’s important because Houdin’s theory depends on a very simple idea in engineering, both in the ancient world and today’s world, and that is the use of weight and counterweight – using the weight of one object to lift one of greater weight.”

Whether or not this theory proves to be perfectly true in every respect will, hopefully, soon be seen. I at least hope that by now most of us can see that these construction techniques are well within the capability of mankind to conceive and achieve without the intervention of aliens.


[1] NOVA – Peter Tyson. “The Unfinished Obelisk.” The Unfinished Obelisk, March 16, 1999. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/egypt/dispatches/990316.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[5] Tyson 1999

[7] Dieter Arnold. “Building in Egypt; Pharaonic Stone Masonry.” Building in Egypt; Pharaonic Stone Masonry, n.d. http://hbar.phys.msu.ru/gorm/ahist/arnold/arnold.htm.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid

[11] Archae Solenhofen. “Ancient Egyptian Stoneworking Tools and Methods.” Ancient Egyptian Stoneworking Tools and Methods, March 31, 2002. http://www.oocities.org/unforbidden_geology/ancient_egyptian_copper_slabbing_saws.html.

[12] Dieter Arnold (see 7.)

[13] Ibid.

[14] Solenhofen 2002

[15] Dieter Arnold (see 7.)

[16] Solenhofen 2002

[17] Ibid.

[18] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/lostempires/obelisk/cutting05.html

[19] Dieter Arnold (see 7.)

[20] Bob Brier, Jean-pierre Houdin. The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man’s Obsession Led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Mystery. Smithsonian, 2008.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Dieter Arnold (see 7.)

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Brier, 2008.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Jean-Pierre Houdin’s Theory 2011 update (video) http://vimeo.com/26769564

[35] Brier, 2008.

[37] Brier, 2008.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.